12 December, 2007

Real Animals vs Men in Animal Suits

Today on STT we are getting serious. If you are looking for lightweight, knockabout fun then keep browsing, you will not find any here. Instead, we are attempting to answer one of the universe’s more complex and self-defeating problems: when setting up a sports team, should you employ a man in an animal costume as your mascot, or simply try to coax a real life animal into the role?

Now there are many differences between the U.K. and America, many too tedious to type out, but one of the most baffling things our cousins across the pond do is favour the real life animal, and attempt to squeeze any poor creature they can catch into their club/school’s shirt. The Wall Street Journal reliably informs me that over two dozen universities throughout the country keep live animal mascots, and this involves pouring literally millions of dollars into facilities for the (not so) friendly fur-balls, that will enable them to live in as close to a natural habitat as can be approximated on an American college campus. So under a beer pong table, covered in vomit and cheerleaders, and drinking out of a old bong then…or so you might think. Southern University at Baton Rouge is seeking to raise $1.5million for a 10,000-square-foot South American-themed habitat for its jaguar, Lacumba III, complete with a waterfall and Mayan-style temples. The University of North Alabama meanwhile keeps its two African lions in a $1.3-million, three-quarter-acre habitat that features waterfalls, an African-style hut, and automatic water bowls. The University of Memphis even built a $500,000 off-campus facility for its tiger, T.O.M. II (street slang for ‘Tiger of Memphis’). The habitat also includes two pools and a half keg filled with plastic balls and foam, but the most extravagant part of this is that the tiger makes an 18-mile trip every week to home football games in a $100,000 trailer (air-conditioned and surrounded by steel bars and tempered glass) which is escorted by six police cars! When you factor in food and general maintainance, the yearly upkeep of a real animal can further spiral to an estimated $40,000 a year, which is more than my current annual wage!

So are the Americans just nuts? I mean, obviously yes, but how can they possibly justify this kind of excess? Many universities say their mascots deserve the best treatment because as symbols of the institutions, they evoke enormous pride in their students. Surely though, an overweight rummy in a mis-fitting tiger suit would evoke just as much spirit as an actual tiger? Plus there are obviously issues of animal cruelty, and I’m not just talking about PETA-baiting nonsense, but actual sabotage, as some mascots have been victims of student pranks. A ram used by the University of North Carolina was once gutted, had his throat slit and his shoulder cut off, while a pig at the University of Mississippi was hung on a pole with a flag shoved down his throat! Pretty harsh I think you’ll agree, but still you’d never see that sort of viciousness directed towards a normal English mascot, even one as wank as Gunnersaurus.

In Europe we find a strange mix of the two styles, with several major clubs around the continent going for the real-life animal as well. Most notably, in 2005 Eintracht Frankfurt brought in a huge golden eagle (seen below with club captain Ioannis Amanatidis) named Attila. He is present at every home game at the Commerzbank Arena, and even traveled up to Berlin with the team for the German Cup Final. Quite the ladies bird around Frankfurt, Attila has achieved a unprecedented level of fame in Germany, having been linked with both of the country’s attractive women, and has also appeared as a guest on a number of popular talk shows.

However, after months of dedicated research, the lesser members of the editorial staff here have concluded that there are no comparative examples at all in English football these days, with every club all the way down to non-league football, favouring the man-in-suit approach to mascotry. There’s a reason for this, well several actually. They look more fun, have more of a personality, can do crazy dances, can have penalty shoot-outs, can accidently knock cheerleaders’ tops off, can fight one another for food, can come on as sub if needed, and at the end of the day, cost considerably less to look after. No Mayan-style temples required to coax Dave from down the local to wear a giant Salmon outfit for the first round of the FA Cup against Graveshead, he was gonna do it anyway.